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How farm life can prevent allergies

Component of dairy dust turns on anti-inflammatory enzyme in mouse lungs

By
2:00pm, September 3, 2015
Cows in a field

SMELL THAT  Breathing in dust from dairy farms could protect kids from developing allergies and asthma. Dried-up cow manure could harbor the bits of bacteria that tell lung cells to calm down when faced with allergens.

Preventing many allergies could be as simple as taking a breath — of farm dust.

Dust from dairy farms switches on an anti-inflammatory enzyme in the lung cells of mice, researchers report in the Sept. 4 Science. The enzyme keeps the immune system from overreacting to common allergens, such as house dust mites, the team found.

It’s the first time researchers have pinned down a specific molecule that explains how farm dust can prevent allergies, says immunologist Donata Vercelli of the University of Arizona in Tucson. “This won’t be the end of the story, but it’s certainly a good beginning,” she says.

Scientists have known for years that farm life seems to protect kids from developing such allergies as asthma and hay fever. Contact with animals, drinking raw milk and breathing farm air all could play a role. But no one knows exactly how.

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